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Artist Boycotts Mural Restoration, Wants Escondido to Address Racism

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Restoration of a vandalized Escondido mural began Friday without the help of the mural’s creator, who feels that the city has ignored racist forces that defaced the work of art.

The paint had barely dried when vandals splashed two 5-gallon containers of white primer on the mural the night before the artwork was to be dedicated last June.

The mural, which was created by noted muralist Salvador Torres and local high school students, had been opposed by some residents who felt it had a Latino overtone that would attract gang activity. Neighbors also were upset that the mural had been painted without consulting them.

“The restoration work that is going on right now and the potential of it being successful is somewhat nebulous,” Torres said. “I feel that there is a very serious problem in the Escondido community having to do with bigotry and racism.”

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Torres said that, while working on the mural, he and others were approached by people critical of what they perceived as the mural’s “Latino theme.”

The mural, which covers three walls of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center on Ash Street, depicts aspects of the history of Escondido and includes representations of American Indians, African-Americans, Latinos and Anglos.

Torres, an assistant professor at San Diego State University, said the city has not addressed the issue of racism as it relates to the mural.

“They were more concerned with restoring this mural than trying to look at the serious problems that are innate in this community,” Torres said.

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“I’m sorry that he feels that way,” Mayor Jerry Harmon said. “It really is hard to know what the motivation was, and we frankly have not been able to determine that.”

Harmon said that people were upset that the mural was placed on a building near a residential neighborhood without the neighbors being consulted.

“It certainly raises the question as to what we should be doing as part of the process for placing art in public places,” Harmon said.

A city arts panel is developing a “process so that neighbors have an opportunity to have some input in the process as to selecting which pieces of art would be located in which neighborhoods,” Harmon said.

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Torres also believes that the $3,000 set aside to fund the restoration of the $8,400 mural is insufficient. More than $1,800 of the money for the restoration was donated by community members.

The city has contracted Muralizing, a San Diego-based firm that has done numerous murals in the county, including one on the back of the scoreboard at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, to conduct the restoration in six days, a time frame that Torres feels is insufficient.

Escondido Police Chief Vince Jimno said it is unclear if the vandalizing of the mural was a hate crime, since no vandals have been caught and the defacing did not include any messages against any particular group.

“We could never figure out if it was truly a hate crime or an argument by someone who just didn’t like the way it looks,” Jimno said. “My sense is it was one of those situations that could be interpreted in any direction you wanted.”

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Jerry Chagala, director of the human relations commission that catalogues hate crimes in the county, said that, within the month, the commission will determine whether or not the defacing was a hate crime.

Chagala said hate crimes are defined as “any action or attempted action to cause physical injury, emotional suffering or property damage which is motivated by hatred of the victim’s race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age, disability or other group characteristic.”


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